Our recommendations for giving in 2021

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You can have a remarkable impact by supporting cost-effective, evidence-based charities.

Just looking at the approximately $100 million[1] GiveWell had discretion to grant in 2020—a subset of all the money we directed to the charities we recommend—the impact of our donors is impressive. We estimate these grants will:

  • Save more than 24,000 lives

  • Treat over 6 million children with a full course of antimalarial medication

  • Provide vitamin A supplementation to over 8.6 million children

  • Deliver over 4.4 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) to protect against malaria

  • Vaccinate 118,000 children

  • Treat over 11.4 million children for parasitic worms

We’re grateful for your support and interest in our work, and we’re excited to share our recommendations and updates on our recent research. We hope you consider donating to some of the truly outstanding charities we recommend.

Summary

We continue to recommend the same excellent top charities.

The nine charities we recommend are high-impact, cost-effective, and backed by evidence and our rigorous analysis. This year, our top charities list remains unchanged.

While our list of recommendations is the same, we have made major strides in our research identifying new giving opportunities within our top charities. We expect to direct about $300 million to our top charities in 2021, compared to about $180 million in 2020. More detail on this below.

We’ve also made major strides in identifying new opportunities that are as cost-effective as current top charities, and expect to grant about $130 million to new interventions this year. We expect to continue that work in 2022.

Our top recommendation: GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund

Our Maximum Impact Fund remains our top recommendation for donors who want to do as much good as possible with their gift. As always, we take no fees, and grant from our Maximum Impact Fund on a quarterly basis to the opportunities where we believe additional donations will help the most.

Cost-effectiveness varies widely between our top charities. Even within charities, there can be wide variations in cost-effectiveness between specific funding opportunities, due to factors like disease prevalence.[2] We use our latest research to grant funds to the highest-priority needs among our top charities. You can see a list of past grants from the Maximum Impact Fund here.

If you’d like to give according to GiveWell’s research, our Maximum Impact Fund is where we expect your donation will help the most.

If you prefer to select an individual charity instead, our 2021 top charities are (in alphabetical order):

  • Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)

  • Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative

  • GiveDirectly

  • Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation program

  • Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) program

  • New Incentives

  • SCI Foundation

  • Sightsavers’ deworming program

  • The END Fund’s deworming program

This year, we expect to fill all funding needs at our top charities that meet our cost-effectiveness bar for granting—this excludes GiveDirectly—and have additional funds remaining to roll into 2022.[3] This is the result of tremendous growth in our fundraising this year. To learn more about why we’re rolling over funds and how this will affect the impact of your donation to the Maximum Impact Fund or our top charities, please see our blog post titled “We aim to cost-effectively direct around $1 billion annually by 2025.”

GiveWell’s evolving role

The lack of changes to our top charities list this year is partially due to changes in how GiveWell is evolving as an organization. Historically, GiveWell has directed funds to charities in two ways:

  • GiveWell as a recommender. Donors choose from our top charities list and give where they like. Our top charities meet GiveWell’s traditional criteria; they are organizations that (a) implement a program that is backed by significant evidence, (b) are cost-effective (in the sense that their program accomplishes a lot of good per dollar donated), (c) can utilize additional funding effectively, and (d) are transparent with us so that we can be transparent with the public.

  • GiveWell as a grantmaker. We direct funds to specific opportunities, either from our Maximum Impact Fund (if granting to top charities) or by recommending grants to specific donors like Open Philanthropy. We recommend specific grants based on cost-effectiveness, aiming to maximize the total impact of the grants we make. We have directed the majority of grant funding to our top charities,[4] but we’ve also granted some to organizations that are not top charities.

Through most of GiveWell’s history, we’ve focused on our role as a recommender. But since 2015, we’ve directed much more through granting. This is due to both increased donations to our Maximum Impact Fund and increased funding from third parties like Open Philanthropy.

We have major open questions about how we ought to frame the charities we recommend and those we grant to. Going forward, we aren’t sure how “top charities” should be defined in relation to our work making and recommending grants, and we’re hesitant to add new top charities while we’re in the process of resolving that.

We expect to raise over $500 million in 2021, largely in additional funds for granting. Given the amount of room for more funding we wanted to find to match our growth in donations, we decided to focus on making grants this year instead of addressing those questions.

We don’t think we’ve clearly communicated these different roles, and we recognize that this distinction may be confusing. In the near future, we plan to improve how we communicate about our recommendations to donors to avoid ongoing confusion. We’ll share further updates in 2022.

How our research teams have increased our room for more funding

Our research is largely done by two teams:

  • Our top charities team, which focuses on continued evaluation of our top charities, as well as projects to increase the amount of funding those organizations can use cost-effectively.

  • Our new interventions team, which focuses on identifying new programs for GiveWell to fund.

We also do some high-leverage research, with the goal of granting to programs that have harder-to-measure effects than our top charities. We’ve shared a few key accomplishments of these teams below (see here, here, and here) to highlight their work.

Our key accomplishment this year was identifying a significantly larger amount of cost-effective room for more funding than previously. We expect that we’ll increase our total room for more funding from $200 million in 2020 to $450 million in 2021.[5] That growth comes from across our different teams:

Below we’ll share more detail on how we were able to grow our room for more funding this quickly.

Our top charities team identified many more cost-effective funding opportunities in 2021.

In 2021, we’ve already recommended $51 million in grants to maintain existing programs run by our top charities.

But we’re also working to identify new opportunities to fund within our top charities. We’ve already recommended $73 million in grants to top charities in 2021 to enable them to expand their programs to new locations, or fill gaps left when other funders withdrew support.

These new funding opportunities have included:

  • distributing nets to prevent malaria in Nigeria

  • distributing medicine to prevent malaria in two new states in Nigeria

  • providing supplements to prevent vitamin A deficiency in Cameroon

  • providing treatments for parasitic worm infections (deworming) in Chad

  • providing cash incentives for routine childhood vaccines in additional areas of Nigeria

We have published a page on the first opportunity in this list, a grant to Malaria Consortium for LLIN distribution in Ondo and Anambra states in Nigeria, and plan to publish more about the other grants in the coming months. We are considering recommending about $170 million in additional grants for programs run by our top charities.

Along with directly funding programs, we’re also funding research to test and measure the impact of these interventions in additional locations.

One example is our work with Malaria Consortium on the impact of SMC (distributing medicine to prevent malaria) in Mozambique and Uganda. Malaria-transmitting parasites in these regions exhibit a higher level of drug resistance than in the Sahel region, where this program has typically been run.[6] A key question is whether higher levels of drug resistance in these regions will cause the program to be less effective.

With funding from GiveWell donors, Malaria Consortium is running pilot projects in the two countries and collecting data on drug resistance. In Mozambique, Malaria Consortium is also running a randomized controlled trial of the impact of SMC on malaria cases.[7] We expect results in 2022.

Our new interventions team identified a number of promising new program areas to support.

As a result of this year’s research, we expect around $130 million will be given to cost-effective giving opportunities, including:

Malnutrition treatment: We’ve directed nearly $30 million (combined) to two organizations, the Alliance for International Medical Action and International Rescue Committee, for programs providing treatment to children with severe malnutrition. Based on our assessment to date, malnutrition treatment is a highly promising program area that may have large, cost-effective funding gaps.[8] We expect to direct more funding to malnutrition treatment programs in the near future.

Mobile conditional cash transfers to incentivize immunizations: We directed a grant of up to $25 million to IRD Global to support a mobile phone-based conditional cash transfer program to incentivize immunizations in Pakistan.[9] Beyond its high estimated cost-effectiveness, we’re excited about this grant because we believe the technology that enables IRD’s program has the potential to be leveraged for other interventions and may open up additional funding opportunities in the future.

Intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in infants (IPTi): We became interested in supporting IPTi, or the provision of antimalarial medication to infants as part of routine immunization services, based on the academic evidence of its effectiveness.[10] However, there are no NGOs supporting governments to implement IPTi at scale.[11] Rather than deprioritizing the program due to lack of funding opportunities, we developed a plan to create programs in this space.

We sent a request for information to 18 organizations with demonstrated experience launching and scaling up malaria- or immunization-related programs in Africa, in order to identify organizations that seemed well suited to designing and implementing an IPTi program at national scale.

We ultimately directed a grant of $120,000 to two organizations, PATH and Malaria Consortium, to conduct a study of the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of integrating IPTi into the routine health systems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. Depending on the results of this study, we may recommend additional funding to implement the program at national scale in these countries.

We’re planning to publish more information about all of the above in the coming months.

We finalized three initial focus areas for high-leverage work within public health regulation and investigated grants in each of those areas.

In 2021:

  • We published an overview of why we decided to focus on alcohol policy, lead exposure, and pesticide suicide within public health regulation.

  • We expect to make $15-30 million in grants in those areas this year. So far, we’ve made $15 million in grants to Pure Earth ($8 million, lead exposure) and the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention ($7.2 million, pesticide suicide).

One other update from our high-leverage work relates to our work on COVID-19 last year. In March 2020, we announced plans to consider grants to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We expected the pandemic to be severe in low- and middle-income countries, where we focus our work. The preliminary results from Innovations for Poverty Action’s large cluster-RCT on mask use (which we funded in 2020) were released. The study received positive press coverage, the intervention is being scaled across South Asia, and a follow-up study is being planned.

We expect high-leverage work will continue to be a small portion of GiveWell’s work in 2021 as we focus further on opportunities that can absorb more total funding.

Updates to our impact estimates

This year, we’ve also completed a project to update our impact estimates—the numbers we share for outcomes and outputs of the charities we recommend. This includes, for example, the cost to save a life through a specific program.

You can see our updated estimates and learn about our general approach to creating impact estimates for the charities and funding opportunities we recommend in our new page on how we produce impact estimates.

As a result of these changes, we’re also no longer sharing our impact calculator. Because our new estimates are backward-looking, they aren’t compatible with a forward-looking tool.

Giving unrestricted funding

The Maximum Impact Fund is the best option for donors who want their donations directed to the most cost-effective opportunities we find within our top charities. However, for donors who are especially aligned with GiveWell, we hope you’ll also consider supporting our work with unrestricted funding.

Unrestricted funding can be used as GiveWell deems best, including for the support of our own operations. GiveWell is a nonprofit, and we rely on donations for our operations.

When you do this, you’re contributing to the research we conduct and share with the public—like all of the analysis that went into this blog post. We recommend:

  • If you’ve never given to GiveWell’s operations before, consider adding 10% to your donation in support of our work.

  • If you’ve supported our operations in the past, we hope you’ll renew your support.

If you’re worried about us getting too much funding, please know that our “excess assets” policy prevents us from holding more funding than we expect to need for our own work in the coming years. It requires us to grant any operations funding we hold over a certain threshold to our recommended charities, which can include both top charities and other organizations.

We also cap at 20% the proportion of our operating budget that any one individual or organization can contribute.[12] This helps us avoid overly relying on a single source of support.

How to give efficiently

In addition to our recommendations on where to give, we also have advice for donors who want to know how to give to maximize the efficiency of their donations. See our:

Ways to learn more

Additional information is linked below:

  • Our latest cost-effectiveness analysis of our top charities is here. Please note that while we dedicate significant resources to making these estimates, and while they are an important part of our work, we have significant uncertainty about the final figures. You can read more about this here.
    While we aim to maximize the good accomplished per dollar donated, these estimates are only one factor we consider when deciding how to prioritize among our top charities’ needs. We also consider charities’ qualitative strengths and weaknesses, the urgency of their funding needs, and other factors. Qualitative assessments of our top charities are available here.

  • Our up-to-date reviews of our top charities are linked from this page.

  • You can contact us at info@givewell.org or in the comments below if you have any questions about our recommendations.

Thank you for being part of our community. We hope you’ll join us in funding these excellent organizations!


  1. This includes money we granted from our Maximum Impact Fund, as well as grants we recommended to Open Philanthropy. Dollar amounts and impact estimates cited in this blog post are drawn largely from unpublished internal data. For more on money we directed in 2020, see our 2020 metrics report. ↩︎

  2. For example, in our page explaining our Q1 2021 allocation from the Maximum Impact Fund, we describe why we chose to allocate funds to Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation work in Cameroon and Nigeria, but not in Kenya. ↩︎

  3. We don’t expect to make a grant to GiveDirectly this year beyond our typical incentive grant of $500,000 (see this section of our page on recommended grants to Open Philanthropy in November 2020). While GiveDirectly is an excellent top charity, it’s the least cost-effective of the organizations we recommend. We’d prefer to hold grantmaking funds until 2022 to spend them on more cost-effective funding opportunities. For more, read “Why aren’t you just directing the extra money to GiveDirectly?” ↩︎

  4. See here for a list of all grants we’ve made or recommended since 2014, including those made to top charities. ↩︎

  5. Some of the additional room for more funding we find in 2021 may be below the cost-effectiveness bar we used in 2020. For more information, read “We aim to cost-effectively direct around $1 billion annually by 2025.” ↩︎

  6. See “Possible development of drug resistance” under “Possible negative/​offsetting impacts” in our intervention report on SMC. ↩︎

  7. See Malaria Consortium’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention 2020 philanthropy report, pp. 25-28 and pp. 43-46, for descriptions of these projects in Mozambique and Uganda. ↩︎

  8. See the cost-effectiveness and room for more funding sections of our intervention report on combined protocol community-based management of acute malnutrition. ↩︎

  9. The final amount of the grant will depend on the total amount needed for incentives, which is uncertain at this time. ↩︎

  10. ​​A recent meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials found a large effect:

    • “Although the effect size varied over time and between drugs, overall IPTi impacts on the incidence of clinical malaria overall, with a 30% reduction (rate ratio 0.70, 0.62 to 0.80; 10 studies, 10,602 participants).” Esu, Oringanje, and Meremikwu 2021, “Main results”

    ↩︎
  11. See “Does the program appear to have room for more funding?” in our intervention report on IPTi. ↩︎

  12. See “How does GiveWell support itself?” on our frequently asked questions page. ↩︎

  13. “For those who itemize their deductions:

    Donors who itemize their deductions can now give more cash to charity before reaching their adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation. Formerly set at 60%, the limitation for cash contributions to certain public charities has now been raised to 100% of an individual’s AGI for both 2020 and 2021. Any giving beyond this 100% limitation may be carried over and used in the next five years.

    This provision excludes giving to private nonoperating foundations and supporting organizations, along with any contributions made to establish or maintain donor-advised funds (DAFs) like those held at Vanguard Charitable.

    This means that Vanguard Charitable donors who exhaust the 60% limit with cash contributions to their DAFs in 2020 or 2021 could make any additional donations outside their DAF and have those donations qualify for a deduction (up until reaching the 100% limit). Please consult a tax advisor to discuss your specific circumstances.

    For those who don’t itemize their deductions:

    The stimulus package extends through 2021 the CARES Act’s allowance for up to $300 of a taxpayer’s charitable contributions to qualify as an above-the-line deduction. It increases the amount to $600 for married couples filing joint returns. This means you don’t have to itemize deductions in order to claim the $300 (or $600) as a deduction. Qualifying donations must be made in cash or cash equivalents (as opposed to stock, for example) and cannot be directed to supporting organizations or DAFs.” Vanguard Charitable, UPDATE: CARES Act provisions extended into 2021, December 29, 2020 ↩︎

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